Boosting Learner Retention With VR


When it comes to careers loaded with life or death decisions, hands-on training isn’t always the best option. Not when it deals with the safety and health of another human being, or the use of dangerous equipment. The training world realizes this challenge, which is why we’re seeing more uses for virtual reality in the workplace. It can be safer, more accessible, and more effective than classroom or web-based training.

But how much more effective? Is a virtual reality simulation or 360° interactive training really a better option?

It is if you want to achieve high retention rates

Specialized sectors that require hands-on training also typically require workers to have the opportunity to, well, get their hands dirty. But that’s not always feasible—not when you have medical personnel that need disaster relief training, or police officer training for stressful situations. In addition to providing those hands-on opportunities for high-risk sectors, VR training boasts a higher learning retention rate.

The Department of Defense used a VR simulation to help military medical personnel retain laparoscopic (minimally invasive surgery) skills when they weren’t using them. The traditional training approach is operating theaters, where students can watch surgeons perform surgery. This can be expensive, time-consuming, and has limited availability for a community of 100,000 personnel.

The research we uncovered collected data from novices and medical trainees that performed two basic surgical tasks with an adaptive VR trainer, executed five times over three sessions. They tested time to task completion and average hand speed. After doing it once, participants completed the tasks faster in the subsequent sessions, the average time going from 153.3 seconds to 123.4 seconds, with the same level of accuracy.

The end goal of the training was to reduce the risk of mistakes during skill reacquisition, which could cause injury or death to patients. Through immersive VR techniques, the Department of Defense found a way to help their medical staff retain those crucial surgical skills while minimizing the risk of injury.

And if you want long-term retention

What we found even more impressive in our research was the potential for long-term retention. In a study conducted by Purdue University, researchers looked into the world of construction and task training with heavy, dangerous equipment. How well could participants retain the complex conceptual-motor tasks they learned in the simulation? The study involved 42 participants learning how to use a simulated hydraulic excavator on a PC-based program, with joysticks to simulate the controls of the excavator.

The result? Participants did better on the retention test than on the immediate test after completing the simulation. Two weeks after the training, the subsequent test showed significant improvement in production rate as well as a decrease in collisions.

In another study, the Midwest Nursing Research Society conducted a comparison study for disaster training with nursing students. Think dealing with mass casualty incidents, decontamination exercises, and moving injured patients through various zones. The control group completed a web-based module training course, and the treatment group completed the web-based module and a virtually simulated disaster experience.

At first, the results were quite similar; both groups showed a similar level of improvement immediately following the trainings. It was the long-term retention test, two months afterwards, where the virtual reality program really shined. The web-based training control group demonstrated knowledge decay in their long-term test (dropping two full points), and the virtual reality treatment group scored significantly higher in learning retention in comparison. Not only did the VR group only drop half a point in their retention rates, but their overall two-month assessment performance was three points higher than the control group.

We’re onboard.

Military, medical, and construction are just a few industries introducing virtual reality simulations into their training. But don’t assume VR training is limited to those specialized sectors. Companies such as Walmart, Lowes, KFC, and others with large-scale training needs are exploring VR. They, too, want the benefits of long-term learner retention that this technology can provide.

So, how can VR training help your learning organization succeed?